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Themes | Essays

Dance of the African Diaspora

Curated by John Perpener

An Introduction By

John Perpener

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African-Americans in Ballet at Jacob’s Pillow: The Dance Theatre of Harlem

While focusing primarily on Arthur Mitchell and Dance Theatre of Harlem, this pioneering company's Pillow performances are juxtaposed with other ballet artists of color, from Maria Tallchief to Misty Copeland.

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE

This exploration of Brown's earliest Pillow performances considers themes of faith, family, and same-sex desire, as well as formative African and Cuban influences.

Black Dancers in the Berkshires

Any full history of black dancers at Jacob's Pillow must include its antecedents in the Underground Railroad era, exemplified by Joanna Haigood in her site-specific production, Invisible Wings.

Tracing Social and Political Activism

With particular emphasis on Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey, this essay examines how dance artists have addressed social concerns through their work, especially since the 1940s.

Talley Beatty

Beatty’s life as a black man who grew up in a racially-divided America was a lasting and volatile influence on the dances he created, as evidenced by Pillow performances from 1948 to the present day.

Asadata Dafora

Born in Sierra Leone in 1890, Asadata Dafora became known in this country as the first to present authentic African music and dance in a theatrical setting.

Jean Léon Destiné

A childhood interest in the folkloric practices of Haiti’s people made an indelible imprint on Destiné, and he went on to teach, perform, and lecture on Haitian dance for decades.

Janet Collins

None of the black artists at Jacob’s Pillow during its early years confronted and overcame the exclusionary practices of the ballet world more than Janet Collins.
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